AIR spotlight summary on “Empowerment of Women and their contribution in Nation Building”.
Right from the days of freedom struggle until today, Indian women have played an important role in all fields of life like in nation building, empowerment in various sectors and taking the country forward on the development index and leading the country in the cleanliness India drive. Women have found themselves in very important positions and played their parts almost to perfection.
Historical Context of Women in Freedom Struggle
- What happens to women affects everybody in society including the men. Even before the freedom struggle, in ancient and medieval times and during 1857 revolt we had important women participants like Jhansi Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal It was during the time of freedom struggle that women in large numbers began to take part in national life.
- The manner in which women came into the public sphere particularly in political sphere is remarkable. The first public participation of women in mass movement started with the Swadeshi movement and went on increasing through the Non Cooperation Movement. In Civil Disobedience Movement we saw women coming in 1000s and leading the crucial parts of the National Movement like picketing of liquor shops and cloth shops, looking after the injured freedom fighters, going to jails like the men and thereby they earned for themselves what they got in the constitution in 1950 which was the Right to Franchise.
Women Participation in Indian Politics
- Women of those times were lucky to have leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhai Patel etc who assigned them important roles. If we move forward from the freedom struggle to post 1947 we had Indira Gandhi as the first women prime minister when western countries were not even dreaming of women leaders at that time.
- Women’s participation in Indian Politics has not improved at a rate at which one would have assumed that it would improve given the stellar role women played in national movement.
- In 1917 Annie Besant, an Irish women became president of Indian National Congress and in 1925 Sarojini Naidu was the president. So women worked very hard and made great contributions.
- In the political sphere where we are lacking today is in the number of elected representatives at the national and state level. At the grass root level at panchayat and municipalities we have lakhs of women representatives. The causes for low representation at national and state level are: the political parties are very reluctant to give seats to women. What has kept women shy of politics is because of increasing violence and criminalisation of politics which keep women out to a great degree.
- We have the grass root leadership ready who are waiting to get into higher spheres. The Women’s Reservation Bill has now become a necessity. The increase in the voting participation of women shows their interest in politics. In 2010 and 2012 assembly election in many states women had outnumbered men in terms of voting percentage. At all India level in 2014 the difference between men and women voting participation has come down to 1.5%. This shows that women are ready, they are keen, and they understand the importance of political process.
- Political representation of women is very important because that is how women’s issues and other major policies get the right kind of space. Evidence has shown that when women are in important leadership roles the policies change for good. The Right to Food campaign in many countries has paid dividends because women were in leadership roles in such campaigns.
Women in Social Sphere
- Women do not face any discrimination in employment or promotion in the academic sphere and in pure sciences. In the new areas like banking and finance where young professionals dominate we see women in very large numbers. The disparity is at the lower levels of society like women are paid less in rural labour sector. The official Minimum Wages Act discriminates between women’s and men’s wages in agriculture, construction labour etc. We see that Bollywood heroines make the point of difference in payment with the male counterpart all the time.
- Recently when so many women won Olympic medals for India, the debate about the nutritional status of women got triggered. The Indian women are nutritionally not considered as strong as they should be compared to their western counterparts or in other continents.
- Despite their low nutritional status compared to the males, Indian women performed so well in Olympics. For women when an opportunity comes, she knows that if she utilises it, it will be a breaking point for her.
- In Clean India campaign, women are leading from the front like the advertisements where Vidya Balan was casted featured that women rejected the marriage proposals when the families did not have toilets at their home. In the areas of cleanliness and hygiene we have seen women are entrusted with the responsibility within the family.
- The government is celebrating Swachh ShaktiSapta to highlight the role of women in Swachh Bharat Mission, to recognize their leadership and honour the women sanitation champions.